The young Assistant State’s Attorney stood at the center of “The Trial of the Century” in the mid-1960s — as the chief prosecutor of mass-murderer Richard Speck.
By Mark Vruno
As the Fenwick Bar Association celebrates its the 20th Annual Accipter Award Luncheon on May 18th, we remember 2006 recipient William Martin, who passed away last July at the age of 80, following a long battle with cancer.
During a legal career that spanned more than 50 years, Bill Martin lawyered — later as a defense attorney — and taught the law. After serving as editor of The Wick student newspaper and graduating from Fenwick in 1954, Martin attended Loyola University Chicago and its law school, where he was voted the outstanding student. He founded and was editor of the Loyola Law Times, a Journal of Opinion.
Until his death last year, the native Oak Parker (St. Giles) was a private practitioner specializing in attorney ethics and criminal law. He is, however, known best for putting a monster behind bars. The murderer’s name was Richard Speck, who went on a killing spree on Chicago’s southeast side the hot night of July 14, 1966.
An Assistant State’s Attorney at the time, the then 29-year-old Billy Martin had been selected from a pool of more than 30 criminal court prosecutors, many much older and with far more felony trial experience, according to an article in the spring 2018 edition of the Journal of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Despite his relative youth, Martin had earned the respect of Cook County State’s Attorney Dan Ward and his chief assistants, including John Stamos.
Twenty-five years later, Martin told the Chicago Sun-Times, “In a way, it was the end of innocence. In this case, eight women asleep in a middle-class, crime-free, virtually suburban neighborhood were subject to random violence from a killer who basically came out of the night.” Reflecting in a 2016 interview with the Wednesday Journal, he added, “By committing the first random mass murder in 20th-century America, Richard Speck opened the floodgates to a tragic phenomenon that haunts us today.”
Martin believed that Speck was evil incarnate. The 24-year-old ex-convict from Texas stabbed or strangled (and, in one case, raped) the female nursing students. While in hiding two days after the grisly murders, Speck tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a broken wine bottle. But once he was locked up in Statesville Correctional Center, Illinois’ maximum-security prison near Joliet, the human monster never showed any remorse for the bloody, heinous acts he committed.
There was one person who survived that horrible night: 85-pound student nurse Corazon Amurao. Originally from the Philippines, Ms. Amurao hid, terrified, under a bunk bed during the five-hour killing rampage. One by one, her nursing school classmates were ruthlessly slain by the madman. At dawn, in shock, she crawled through the carnage to the townhouse balcony. For 20 minutes she screamed, “Oh my God, they are all dead!”
WTTW Interview with Bill Martin (2016).
Billy and Duke team up
In addition to Billy Martin, the state’s prosecution team against Speck included another Catholic League guy: George “Duke” Murtaugh. Now also deceased but 26 at the time, Murtaugh had sparkled on the basketball court for St. Rita High School before moving on to St. Mary’s University (Minnesota), then the Chicago Kent College of Law. The Martin-Murtaugh duo faced off against an older, more seasoned CCL rival: Gerald Getty, the Chief Public Defender for Cook County, who was an alumnus of Mt. Carmel High School and DePaul University.
Amurao, that brave, young survivor, was the eye- and ear-witness who would testify against Speck. In the Peoria courtroom, Martin asked her to recount the night of terror and to identify the killer. After detailing the slaughter, to her lawyer’s surprise the tiny nurse stepped down from the witness stand and thrust a finger in Speck’s face, saying, “This is the man.”
Interestingly, Martin was against the death penalty; however, in Speck’s case, he believed the punishment fit the crimes. Murtaugh had delivered a dramatic opening argument; Martin’s closing words were characteristically eloquent and succinct. Addressing the men and women of the jury, he said:
“And write it [the verdict] not with vengeance toward Speck as a man, because the law doesn’t bear vengeance toward men. The law is here to control society and to deter crime in the future. Write that verdict not in hatred, write that verdict not with any sense of animosity. But write it in truth, because this is the proper case [for the death penalty]. And write it because this is the only just verdict that can be returned in this case. Find him guilty and fix his punishment at death.”
After deliberating less than an hour, they returned a guilty verdict. The sentence: death by electrocution (the electric chair). Once he was convicted in 1967, however, Speck’s and 40 other sentences ultimately were overturned due a 1972 Supreme Court decision to abolish the death penalty for the time being. Instead, he was ordered to serve 1,200 years – one, 150-year life sentence for every human life he took. In 1991, at age 49, Speck had a massive heart attack and died in prison.
Martin had left the state’s attorney’s office in 1969 to join the faculty at Northwestern University’s Law School and, for a brief time in the ’70s, entered into private practice. In ’93 he co-authored a book entitled The Crime of the Century.
(Read the full article in The Journal of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Spring 2018 Edition.)
The late, Hon. Louis Garippo ’48 was a Cook County judge and fixture for many years at the Criminal Court building at 26th Street and California Ave. Earlier in his career, he had been chief of the criminal division of the State’s Attorney’s office under Ward and Stamos. Judge Garippo, who grew up in the Galewood neighborhood, was among those who assigned the lead prosecutor role in the Speck case to Martin, who happened to be a fellow Friar from Fenwick.
“Lou’s dad was a clerk at the Criminal Court of Cook County,” recalls Tom Morsch ’49 of La Grange, IL, a retired attorney who spent most of his 40-year career with Sidley & Austin before teaching for 10 years at NU. “Lou loved Bill [Martin]. He would always say what a good, young attorney he was. Well, he must have been excellent because there were many other experienced lawyers who could have been given that high-profile case!”
The Speck case would serve as a precursor for cases later to come for Garippo. He was perhaps best known as the presiding judge over the trial of John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer and rapist who sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 on the Northwest Side of Chicago. In 1980, following the Gacy trial, Judge Garippo retired from the bench to pursue the remainder of his career in private practice. He passed away in 2016 at 84. Garippo was honored as Fenwick’s second Accipter Award recipient 20 years ago.
One of Martin’s six children is the Hon. Marc Martin, an Associate Judge in the Third Municipal District in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Judge Martin also is a Friar from the Class of 1979 and graduated from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1987.
The younger Martin served in private legal practice for more than 27 years with the law firm Genson, Steinback, Gillespie & Martin and predecessor firms, as well as Marc Martin Ltd. He was one of the attorneys for R.J. Vanecko, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew who pleaded guilty in 2014 to involuntary manslaugher in the death of David Koschman.
Shortly after that case, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Martin to a Cook County circuit judgeship. Originally from Oak Park, Judge Martin is a Park Ridge Democrat assigned to Courtroom 110/Suburban Felony and also hears a variety of matters on a rotating basis with the other Municipal Department judges in the Rolling Meadows, IL Courthouse.
“It’s funny,” says Morsch. “I knew Bill Martin through Lou [Garippo], but I knew him more as an amateur hockey player. He was sort of famous, playing well into his 40s. He sponsored those lawyers’ league teams that used to play against the Blackhawks’ alumni.”
FBA’s Accipter Award
The Accipiter Award was first presented in 1997 as a way to honor members of the Fenwick community who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession. Accipiter is a Latin word meaning “hawk.” The award was named in honor of Fr. Joseph Hren, O.P., longtime teacher of Latin at Fenwick High School. Fr. Hren often was known among students as “the Hawk” for his devotion to detail and accuracy and his love for Latin, the language of the Law. This year’s winner is John Sciaccotta ’80 of the law firm of Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa. Sciaccotta is a Co-Founder and Past President of the Fenwick Bar Association (FBA).